Plans forming for full reno of CHS auditorium

       After months of study, District 11 and Coronado High officials have found a place for the school's new auditiorium. Coronado drama teacher Elizabeth Kahn (wearing jacket)
and students in the production of the musical “Grease” work
on sets inside the school auditorium, which will be essentially
gutted in a renovation project to start next summer that will
add a balcony and more than twice as much seating. The
project will also add off-stage space for set development
and other performance needs. Note the auditorium’s center
division that limits the current seating.
Westside Pioneer photos
       Right where it is now.
       Technically, that means it's not a “new” auditorium - as advertised in the 2004 bond issue - but it will be awfully close to that, according to recent interviews with Principal Susan Humphrey and District 11 Facilities Director Mike Maloney.
       “This will be as state of the art as we can make it,” Humphrey said, describing a $2.975 million facility that will have more than double the audience capacity; a new stage, acoustics and lighting; plus added backstage space for performers and set development. “It will be a terrific asset for the school, the Westside and the community.”
       School/district officials are meeting weekly to fine-tune the plans, with the final design to be inked by a consulting firm (the DLR Group) next spring. Con-struction is scheduled to start when school lets out in May and to continue until at least December.
       According to Maloney, the project will leave almost none of the current auditorium - which was built as part of the then-new school in 1971 - except the exterior walls.
       Using the existing location makes sense because it is in the heart of the campus as well as near the parking lot, which makes the auditorium easily accessible for students or visitors. But it also became a necessity because the Coronado property off Fillmore Street and Mesa Road has no undeveloped space big enough for a new building that size, and because the bond estimate, after closer consideration, was found to be far too low to fund a new facility, anyway, Humphrey explained.
       The auditorium's capacity increase - from 360 to 750 seats - will be largely attained by going up. The roof will be raised to allow a balcony with room for about 300 people. Additional space will be made on the main floor by eliminating an open center area, part of the school's original 1971 design that allowed the auditorium to be divided in half. Devin Watts paints a set for the musical 'Grease' on the Coronado High stage while chatting with fellow student 
Evan Hooton this week. Plans call for the school's new auditorium to have a separate room for set preparation so the work will not have to be done on the stage 
anymore.
Westside Pioneer photo
       Dividing is the last thing the school wants to do at this point. With a 1,500-plus enrollment that's about two-thirds bigger than the auditorium was originally designed for, Humphrey said she can't fit her freshman class into the current facility, let alone the entire student body. “Now any large assembly is in the large gym,” she said. “But the focus isn't the same.”
       The whole school won't fit in the new auditorium either, but at least there can be two grade levels at a time, the principal noted.
       Elizabeth Kahn, the school's drama instructor, said she is looking forward to the improved space for several reasons. Electrical wiring is perhaps the biggest necessity. She said the old wiring is so inadequate that it's commonplace to “pop fuses three times a show.”
       Another problem was obvious on the day she was interviewed. The stage on which students would be performing the opening matinee of “Grease” the next day was also being used to paint sets before the show. In the past, “we've been here three hours scrubbing paint off the floor,” she said. The new auditorium will have a separate room for such work to take place.
       Other upgrades will include storage space, expanded dressing rooms and a modern stage. But Kahn especially will value the changes from a teaching standpoint. After joking that her students “won't be as good at problem-solving anymore,” she said that the new auditorium will let her teach “more of what theater is really like, not how to use archaic space.”
       Both Humphrey and Maloney took pains to address the issue of a “new” vs. a “renovated” auditorium. A brand-new auditorium might have cost as much as $5 million, Humphrey said; however, the bond-issue estimate had been less than $1.4 million (including a separately listed sound system).
       “The district's bond program consists of about 600 individual projects,” Maloney said. “When we prepared our estimates about three years ago, we didn't have the benefit of any design work. We made the best estimate we could of what it would cost.”
       Fortunately for the district, many of the other bond projects - there is at least one at every non-new school in the district - have come in under estimates. Those savings, plus a program contingency fund, freed up $1 million. The remainder came from interest earned on the roughly $30 million in bond money that's paying for the projects, he said.
       In the end, the facility should be new enough to meet the intent of the bond issue, Humphrey said. Despite the construction headaches (which, among other impacts, will force the school's music and drama performers to find other venues during the first part of next school year), she is eager for the work to get started. “It's going to be a huge challenge,” she said. “There isn't a lot of wiggle room in those construction timelines. But in the end it's so exciting that we'll have the ability to make these much-needed improvements. The kids deserve it.”
       The non-school community can also share in the amenity, she noted. It will be available for rentals through D-11 (as is the current facility).
       What would make the project perfect in her mind is if the December 2007 deadline can be met so that a holiday musical performance could open the auditorium. “I'd like to have a gala that will knock people's socks off,” she said.

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